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Extinction Rebellion meets the Latin Americans in the UK

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris agreement on climate change, but not enough has been done since. Therefore, in the autumn of 2018, a group of people created a movement in this country to take action regarding the climate emergency. Nowadays, they are trying to work with and involve different communities, and one of the biggest is the Latin American immigrants living in the UK. Richard Gallen from XR spoke to The Prisma. 


Richard Gallen. Photo by Nathan Raia / The Prisma

Nathan Raia


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that there are only 10 to 12 years left to adopt drastic actions and limit the catastrophic effects of climate change. Which is a very small window considering that after that it is very likely that nothing would work, no matter what is done.

Nowadays, climate change is an emergency, but there is no urgency to address this issue in the public debate and in the actions of people in power.

It has been part of the national and international conversation since the early 1980s. People have been told to do their bit, have been told to recycle and not to use disposable cups…, like we can avert this crisis through individual consumer choice.

And yet 70% of the global carbon emissions is produced by an only a hundred of companies. If something had have been done 30 or 40 years ago, today it wouldn’t be necessary to take such drastic actions. The Extinction Rebellion group has formed in response to this and to the lack of action by governments in addressing the climate change issue, the ecological emergency and the destruction of our natural systems.

Migrants have been one of the groups that have not been taking part in the action, as many of them can’t risk contact with the police. Despite this, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is aiming to get them more involved, and this is why they decided to organise different activities and talks to involve and get closer to different communities.

They are protesting using nonviolent direct action to disrupt “business as usual”. They feel that taking to the streets in peaceful resistance is now a last resort after other methods of lobbying and protest have been exhausted.

Their demands are for governments to tell the truth and declare a climate emergency, to act now and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and to set up a Citizens Assembly, representative of people in the UK, to consider what action needs to be taken.

Photo by Arkadiusz Kasperczyk. Courtesy of The Hourglass / Extinction Rebellion

In London, where there are more than three million foreign-born people, it might be difficult for immigrants in taking part in direct actions of protests, as an arrest might be a price too high to pay, but for 20 people involved in a protest  only one or two  are taking part in arrestable roles. Moreover, there are different ways in which is possible to get involved, roles that wouldn’t make someone arrestable, such as training, welcoming, cooking, and media and messaging roles.

In 2018, just after the IPCC report warning them that they had 10 to 12 years left to take drastic action, Extinction Rebellion took a few major bridges in London. Then in April 2019, with a bigger protest, they occupied Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus. This is when Richard Gallen joined the movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR).

He just walked down to Waterloo Bridge, and as it’s a nonviolent protest, he felt that was something he could do but was also aware that this was easy for him to do because of his ethnicity, social class and cultural identities. Part of his role now in Extinction Rebellion is to help make the organization as welcoming as possible to the widest cross section of people in the UK.

The Prisma spoke with Richard Gallen about how the climate crisis is affecting everyone’s life and why and how they are getting closer to different communities.

What exactly does the term “climate change” mean?

We don’t refer to it as climate change so much, we refer to it as climate crisis now, because is happening so quickly and we are running out of time. Humans have caused and created the climate crisis over the past 150 years, since the industrial revolution, by putting fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere the rate at which we are using these damaging gases continues to increases in spite of governments and companies around the world pledging to reduce their emissions.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

How are local communities and minorities involved in this movement?

Within Extinction Rebellion we have Extinction Rebellion Muslims, Extinction Rebellion Christians and Extinction Rebellion Africans. So although we have very different groups, within our group, but we are still largely a white organisation.

This is something that we are working on. I’m in the Communities working group of my local London borough where we make contacts with Latin America, Somali and Bangladesh organisations. We want to know their perspectives on the crisis, how it affects them both as migrants to the UK and in their countries of origin; cow do they view nonviolent direct action as a method of protest.

Why should communities and minorities be interested in the climate crisis?

The climate crisis is something that has always been felt here in the UK as something that will happen in the future. When, for the Latin America community, for example, is something that is happening right now.

When we look at burning forests, or the ecological destruction of the rainforest, the indigenous peoples in Latin America are the people defending those areas.

Photo by Jamie Lowe. Courtesy of The Hourglass / Extinction Rebellion

Those are the people on the front line of the crisis. I lived in Colombia myself, the indigenous leaders have always been murdered in Colombia for defending their lands. It never gets reported and it never gets acted on by the Colombian government. As the climate crisis is escalating, as the forest areas keep getting cut down, then, the most marginalised people in society are going to be the most affected by it.

A slight rise in temperature in the UK means that we get some heat weaves in summer. But a slight rise in temperature in Somalia means crop failure.

What do you know about the immigrant Latin American communities?

I have Latin American friends from my time in Colombia and I am an ESOL teacher and have Colombians. Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Venezuelans and Brazilians in my classes. I know how much many of them struggle with English and therefore struggle to have their voices heard at their work, with the authorities and culturally at a local and national level.

How much do you know about the other migrant communities?

I worked as an ESOL teacher in Tower Hamlets and many of my students came from Bangladesh and Somalia. Through teaching them I have got to know a lot about their cultures, and the different opinions, worldviews and concerns that they have. I have also worked with Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children – and have heard from them about the lives that they have left behind and the uncertainty they face in the UK, trying to get refugee status.

Photo by Peter Brooks. Courtesy of The Hourglass / Extinction Rebellion

The protests of Extinction Rebellion in the UK have made headlines, you have achieved many goals, and some people have been arrested for protesting. Have any foreigners been among them?  

Yes, there have been. And the risk is massive for everybody when get arrested, but for some people the cost, the sacrifice is too high.

For Latin American immigrants, is it going to be safe to join Extinction Rebellion? 

Yes, this is a concern of many people who are not white- the police in the UK are institutionally racist and can target ethnic minorities in a protest. Many people of colour feel that the street is not a safe place for them. However, joining Extinction Rebellion does not mean getting arrested, there are many roles within Extinction Rebellion. For every person that is arrested, there are 20 other people behind the scenes, contributing to a protest in a non-arrestable role.

When we are not protesting, we are busy at a local level, raising awareness among local people through talks and events and small actions. We have immigrants, including Latin Americans, from many countries who are active in our organization.

Photo by Paul Powesland. Courtesy of The Hourglass / Extinction Rebellion

Why put another fear in this community, already scared by the immigration policies?

Yes, this is understandable, many migrants are part of Extinction Rebellion face uncertain immigration status in the face of Brexit. It’s also worth mentioning that there is safety in numbers, the more people are in the streets, the safer it becomes.

How can you reach the Latin America community?

The local group that I’m working with have a talk called “Heading for Extinction Talk.” It is about an hour and a half-long talk, and we are developing it in Spanish. Many Latin Americans in the UK, struggle with English and giving literature, leaflets, and talks in their language is an important thing, which is something we are trying to develop at the Latin America House.

It is difficult for people to come to the talk when there are so many other things going on in their lives, and if they are going to come to our workshops, it would usually be about visas or workers’ rights, something that is immediate and practical.

How can you encourage them in participating in the talks?

With the help of community centres, providing some food, music, kids activities, something to come down for. So, families would come down, having talks, a little piece of theatre, something like this.

For example, we had an event in Islington Green last summer, we just took a small park area in Islington and we had exactly all the things I just mentioned, and people were coming in to find out more. We don’t necessarily want people to join us, it’s a solidarity movement, we can have different movements all feeling the same way, working together and fighting for the same cause

How can Latin Americans contribute to the work of Extinction Rebellion?

Latin Americans can bring their perspectives on the fight for climate justice, something that can be hard to understand for people born in the UK with no connections to countries on the front line of the climate emergency.

Richard Gallen Photo by Nathan Raia / The Prisma

Many Latin Americans are also employed in intensive agriculture, one of the main causes of global warming and ecological destruction. It’s so important that the voices of these workers are heard if a just transition is to be made to more sustainable farming methods.

Latin Americans living in the UK have experience of these issues, either directly themselves or from friends and family in their home countries. Latin Americans can contribute to Extinction Rebellion by bringing these issues into focus and educating people, both within Extinction Rebellion and the people whose minds we are trying to change.

The Extinction Rebellion ideology has been included in the list of extreme ideologies, among the jihadists and the neo-Nazism. How do you consider this decision? 

Greenpeace is on the list as well, and I think that people see that as ridiculous. Extinction Rebellion use Non Violent Direct Action as method to bring about change. We peacefully take to the streets to draw attention to very serious issues that has been largely ignored. With nonviolent direct action, you create a dilemma for the authorities: if they come harder on us we gain public sympathy, or they let us be then our voices are heard for longer, more people come out in support because they feel safer doing so. So, that’s what brings people to say, “I understand that climate change is serious, I don’t agree with what Extinction Rebellion is doing, but that’s too harsh to include them on a list of extremist ideologies.”

Do you think Brexit will limit people in taking part in the Extinction Rebellion?

It will definitely have an effect. But, as I said you can be part of the protest without risking being arrested.


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